Following on from a tepid Spa weekend Formula 1 was shocked into life by a dramatic Italian Grand Prix which produced a surprise winner, an unusual podium and some pivotal moments in the 2020 title race. LUKE SMITH outlines the top talking points
You will be hard-pressed to find as shocking a result in Formula 1 since the turn of the millennium than the one offered in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Pierre Gasly became the 109th grand prix winner in F1 world championship history with a stunning victory at Monza, coming completely out of the blue.
It was a race turned on its head by a safety car, a red flag and a penalty for Lewis Hamilton, who looked bound for a comfortable victory early on before a rare slip-up by Mercedes left him last by nearly 30 seconds.
It was a day where young drivers starred and big names missed opportunities, capping off a poignant weekend for F1.
1. Gasly's redemptive arc hits a new peak
There have been few stories in F1 more remarkable than Gasly's rise, fall and rise over the past 18 months. From being appointed as Daniel Ricciardo's replacement at Red Bull to being binned off after 12 races, there were concerns Gasly could end up facing the same crisis of confidence that marred Daniil Kvyat's return to Toro Rosso in 2016-17.
But Gasly has always remained strong, notably scoring a superb second-place finish in Brazil last year. And then came Monza.
Gasly has been one of the quiet stars of 2020, sitting third in Autosport's average driver ratings for the season so far. But the fashion in which he took his victory at Monza marked a new peak in the young driver's career.
There was an element of luck to vault up the order by pitting just before the safety car, but Gasly nailed the restart to pass Lance Stroll and then quickly build a gap to Carlos Sainz Jr. He then soaked up late pressure from Sainz without missing a beat to give AlphaTauri a surprise home victory.
In 12-and-a-bit months, Gasly has gone from a dejected figure at Spa facing questions over his F1 future to a grand prix winner. It's the kind of redemptive arc that F1 narratives are rarely generous enough to offer.
"After everything that happened to me in the last 18 months, I could not have hoped for a better way to get my first win," Gasly said.
2. Sainz again proves he is Ferrari quality
Having missed out on the official podium ceremony in Brazil last year, Sainz finally got the chance to be part of the celebrations at Monza after a superb run to second.
Sainz said after the race he was "halfway disappointed" with the result, given he was closing on Gasly as the laps ticked down and had DRS for the final lap. Another couple of tours may have been enough for the Spaniard to give McLaren its first win since 2012.
But unlike Gasly's win, Sainz's podium cannot be put down to the safety cars and red flag alone. He was rapid all weekend, making a superb start from third on the grid to run a comfortable second in the opening stages. Even in a straightforward race, he would probably have made the top three.
It again proves why Ferrari has signed the Spaniard for 2021. He didn't hang about in his overtakes on the restart, picking his way past the Alfa Romeos and Racing Point's Lance Stroll after being one of the big losers under the red flag.
The smooth operator strikes again - and the podium is no less than he deserves after a fairly rotten run of luck to start the year.
3. F1's fearless youngsters stole the show
The sight of Gasly, Sainz and Stroll on the podium was a refreshing change of pace for F1, particularly in a year where the same three drivers have tended to dominate proceedings at the front.
It marked the third-youngest podium in F1 history, only trailing the record-setting Brazil 2019 - where Gasly and Sainz joined Max Verstappen - and the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, when Sebastian Vettel scored his first victory ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica.
And all three earned the result the hard way. Having not pitted prior to the red flag, Stroll had been in the pound seat to take his maiden win - sitting second on the restart behind the imminently-penalised Hamilton - only to get too much wheelspin off the line and drop back.
A brief spell of pace from the Alfa Romeos left Stroll and Sainz with passes to make, yet neither baulked at getting the moves done, even against veteran Kimi Raikkonen. They were clinical.
Stroll admitted after the race he thought it was his race to lose, and it was certainly another opportunity missed for Racing Point. But a second F1 podium - his first since Baku in 2017 - was no less than the Canadian has deserved through an impressive campaign to date that now sees him up to fourth in the drivers' standings.
Although this is hardly a 'changing of the guard' moment for F1 given the regular dominance of Mercedes and Red Bull, it's a wonderful reminder of the talented youngsters on the grid right now.
4. Mercedes received a lesson in hard luck
Not even the dominant W11 car could get Mercedes out of the hole it found itself in at Monza on Sunday as it faced a lesson in hard luck.
Hamilton was quick to take responsibility for missing the lighting boards showing the pitlane was closed, but it was hardly an easy spot.
The pitlane was only declared closed as Hamilton entered Parabolica. Hamilton wasn't aware the pit closed lights were on the left-hand side of the track, and Mercedes could not see the lights from the pitwall. The lights at pit entry did not show red as it had expected.
Mercedes also lacked a second bullet in the gun. A poor start for Valtteri Bottas - very nearly a jump start - saw him fall down the order and report that he thought he had a puncture. Although it was not that severe, the Finn struggled through the right-hand corners all race, meaning he could not fare any better than fifth. Mercedes has confirmed it will investigate what the issue was on his car.
There really wasn't much more Mercedes could have done at Monza. Ironically, had Hamilton not been so far clear of Sainz and reined things in a bit in the first stint, the team would have had more time to realise the pitlane was closed. You can be sure it will learn from this defeat and adjust its operations accordingly.
5. The engine mode ban did what its supporters intended
The move to ban engine mode changes in qualifying and races was always intended to rein in Mercedes. And that's exactly what it did at Monza - completely by accident.
We saw in qualifying just how strong Mercedes was despite the engine mode ban, which it always warned would not have the desired effect. Hamilton's stellar start allowed him to quickly build a healthy lead over Sainz in second, making the race look like it was settled.
But when Hamilton was forced to serve his penalty and scythe back through the field, the impact of the engine mode ban became clear. It wasn't possible for him to turn up the engine as he closed on drivers to make a pass, stunting his fightback to some degree.
"[If] you create one power mode for the whole race [it] means that you haven't got the extra spice to overtake," explained Toto Wolff.
"You haven't got the extra modes that you may decide or not to deploy in the race to overtake, and that is valid for all the small teams as for the big teams. I think that the race today is a consequence of that decision."
But we also saw the upside of the engine mode ban in the battle for victory. Sainz and Gasly had one less tool at their disposal - no 'Scenario 7' call, no sudden surge in pace to end the fight - putting it largely down to their own confidence and ability.
And isn't that how F1 should always be?
6. Freak results aren't a thing of the past in Formula 1
F1 may have produced a number of topsy-turvy races in recent times - see Silverstone and Austria this year - but true freak results haven't been that common at all.
That is what made Sunday's race at Monza so, so special. As the laps ticked down and it became evident F1 was about to crown its latest first-time winner, the fact it was going to be a freak result also sunk in.
It marked the first race since the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix (above) that none of the 'big three' teams - Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari - stood on the podium, and was the first they had failed to win since Raikkonen's victory for Lotus at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.
The conditions that led to a Gasly-Sainz-Stroll podium were, of course, extremely rare. One Mercedes was sent to the back with a huge penalty, one Red Bull and both Ferraris were out of the race, and neither Bottas nor Alexander Albon had the pace to fight at the front.
But it shows that freak results are still possible. As F1 looks ahead to the regulation change in 2022 and lays the foundations for what it hopes will be a more competitive grid, this could be a taste of things to come.
As much as we would all like to see more results like this, it would definitely take away some of the magic around a victory such as Gasly's. We can't have it all, sadly.
7. Verstappen and Bottas missed an enormous opportunity
Speaking of freak results in F1, there are very few times where Hamilton truly drops the ball and comes out of a weekend failing to maximise his points haul. Italy was one of those.
But Hamilton managed to leave Monza with his championship lead intact at 47 points - now leading from Valtteri Bottas instead of Max Verstappen - despite finishing a lowly seventh.
This should have been a chance for Bottas in particular to make serious inroads on Hamilton's championship lead, taking advantage of an 'off day' and changing the momentum swing. But he missed that chance completely.
When Nico Rosberg beat Hamilton to the title in 2016, it was largely down to his ability to fully exploit mistakes from his team-mate. Every time Hamilton made an error, Rosberg maximised the chance. Bottas - for whatever reason, given questions over the car - has not done that.
Verstappen had a very quiet weekend all-round at Monza, qualifying fifth as Red Bull struggled with the low downforce layout, but started poorly and then was sidelined by an engine issue. He's regularly talked down his title chances, and even the odds of him beating Bottas to second. But it was still a chance to put on some pressure.
"Talk about damage limitation," Hamilton said. "I'm definitely grateful for it."
8. Race 999 is another case in Ferrari's emergency
Ferrari hit a low point in Belgium eight days ago as its poor form saw Vettel and Charles Leclerc both finish outside of the points - but Monza was arguably even worse.
A Q1 exit for Vettel in P17 marked the lowest qualifying position for a Ferrari driver at Monza since 1964 (Ludovico Scarfiotti's P16 the previous nadir), but he was quickly put out of his misery in the race as a brake failure - thankfully occurring at Turn 1 where there was plenty of run-off - forced him to retire after six laps.
Leclerc didn't look like scoring points in a normal race, sitting 13th in the opening stint, but an early stop meant he was able to vault up to sixth under the safety car. He then made an excellent double pass on the Alfa Romeos to sit as high as fourth before crashing hard at the exit of Parabolica, ending his race.
Given the straightline speed struggles of SF1000 and that none of the Ferrari-powered cars scored points, Leclerc would have faced a real challenge to stay so high up the order. But to not get either Ferrari car to the finish at Monza was a huge disappointment. Vettel even said after the race he was glad in a way the Tifosi was not present to watch such struggles.
The upcoming tracks should be less troublesome for Ferrari, but as it gears up to celebrate its 1,000th grand prix at Mugello this weekend, the team is facing a challenge to pick itself up and find any silver linings in its current situation.
9. Toto Wolff was right all along about the brake duct saga
Amid all of the drama in the wake of Gasly's victory, Ferrari took the opportunity to sneak out the news that it had withdrawn its appeal over the FIA's ruling in the Racing Point brake duct case, bringing the saga to a close.
Following the initial ruling at Silverstone, five teams expressed their intention to appeal the decision, but have all dropped out one by one. McLaren and Williams were satisfied by the FIA's plans to clamp down on car copying, but Renault, Ferrari and Racing Point all wanted further clarifications.
The final agreements and meetings meant that both Racing Point and Ferrari withdrew their appeals on Sunday, ending the saga for good. Racing Point was content that its innocence had been recognised and that it "did not deliberately break" the rules, putting them down to an "ambiguity".
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff had always stated his intention that he did not think it would go to the FIA's International Court of Appeal, and has been proven right. It has shown that the FIA is taking the car copying matter very seriously, and will not be a long-running problem for F1.
It also means there can now be no sour grapes from Racing Point's rivals for the rest of the season, hopefully allowing us to enjoy the raging battle between the midfield teams that looks set to run right to the end of the year.
10. F1 will dearly miss the Williams family
The Italian Grand Prix marked the 739th and final race in F1 for the Williams family in F1 after confirming its exit last week following the takeover by Dorilton Capital.
While Williams was unable to bid farewell to Sir Frank and Claire with points - Nicholas Latifi was an agonising 11th - the whole weekend was filled with touching tributes to the team.
Latifi and George Russell both gave lovely soliloquies about the impact of the team on their careers, while Bottas also had some touching words, having also made his debut with Williams.
Hamilton has always talked up Williams, and especially the impact of Sir Frank. "He was one of the people I respect the most here," Hamilton said of the team founder. "I think he was one of the most honest, if not the most honest person in Formula 1."
Claire Williams was given a touching farewell by the team, who gave her the task of sending the cars out from the pits to the grid, as well as a front wing from one of the Martini-liveried cars that every team member and signed and placed a message on (above).
The future for Williams may look brighter, but the absence of the family as part of the team is a great loss for F1, marking the end of an important era.